SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Amidst growing water scarcity and concern about the future availability and quality of water, a new GE (NYSE: GE) consumer survey unveiled today indicates that Americans strongly support reusing water to help the U.S. drive economic competitiveness and protect the environment.
Despite the “ick factor” often associated with recycled water, two thirds of Americans (66 percent) feel positive about water reuse, according to the survey of 3,000 consumers in the U.S., China and Singapore. The survey reports that Americans also think that industry and government should play a stronger role in making water reuse a priority.
Reuse Offers a Solution
This is a significant finding, considering that 36 U.S. states face water shortages in the coming year and by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population—or 5.3 billion people—will be vulnerable to water shortages.
“Population growth, rapid industrialization and accelerated urbanization are driving the need for water reuse,” said Heiner Markhoff, president and CEO—water and process technologies for GE Power & Water. “The survey, which we developed to get a better understanding of the awareness and barriers to adoption of water reuse, revealed stronger support for water recycling than we expected. It shows that the vast majority of Americans understand the value of water reuse.”
While the majority of Americans hesitate at the concept of “toilet-to-tap” recycling, more than 80 percent of Americans surveyed indicated that they support using recycled water for many “toilet-to-turf” uses—activities that require significant amounts of non-potable water, such as agricultural irrigation, power generation, landscaping, industrial processing and manufacturing, toilet flushing and car washing.
Industry Has Large Role to Play
Nearly 20 percent of the world’s freshwater resources are used for industrial purposes and nearly 70 percent for agriculture. The survey showed that Americans feel that the largest water users are most responsible for contributing to water scarcity. Large industries (74 percent), agriculture (69 percent) and utilities and power companies (67 percent) were seen as most responsible for contributing an “extreme amount” or “quite a bit” to water scarcity.
Americans also see the connection between energy and water—more than eight in 10 (86 percent) understand that you need energy to deliver water and more than seven in 10 (74 percent) are aware that you need water to create energy. Americans expect energy industry leaders to demonstrate water stewardship by using recycled water to produce electricity—and believe this can positively impact cost and efficiency. Around 84 percent said smart water management can help the U.S. more efficiently create and use energy and nearly nine out of 10 (87 percent) Americans are in favor of using recycled water for power generation, more than any other application.
“There is an inextricable tie between energy and water,” said Markhoff. “As the supplier of technologies that deliver 25 percent of the world’s energy, we are encouraged by the survey results. Every day, we are working to develop power generation technology to significantly reduce or eliminate the need for water, while also innovating water technologies to treat and reuse water in the most energy-efficient and sustainable way."
Policy, Innovation and Education as Path Forward
Despite having positive perceptions of water reuse and a good grasp on the country’s largest water users, Americans’ understanding of the water lifecycle and solutions lags behind that of those surveyed in China and Singapore. For example, 31 percent of Americans don’t know where their water comes from, compared to only 14 percent of those in China and 15 percent of those in Singapore.
Additionally, Americans are looking to national government to take the lead to advance water reuse. Eight in ten (84 percent) Americans believe protection of water resources should be a national priority. However, Americans are willing to do more than just call on the national government; they will open their pocketbooks as well. Nearly half would immediately pay more—12 percent on average—to ensure that future generations will be less vulnerable.
“GE sees water reuse as a critical solution to help reverse the trend of growing water scarcity in the U.S. and around the world, and the technology needed to move toward that reality is available today,” said Markhoff. “We can deliver the advanced technology to efficiently treat, recycle and reuse water—such as our ecomagination-qualified ZeeWeed membrane technology. Each day, GE technology is used to treat more than 2 billion gallons of water. We continue to invest millions of dollars every year in R&D to innovate more cost-effective and energy-efficient technologies to support a sustainable water future. The adoption of technology, combined with forward-thinking government policy and education, will be the key to overcoming barriers to water reuse.”
GE is committed to reducing freshwater use across its business and is exceeding goals, achieving in 2011 a 35 percent reduction from 2006. Also in 2011, GE’s ecomagination initiative put $2.3 billion of R&D to work to develop innovative technologies that deliver great economics and drive resource efficiency in areas like water reuse, with a commitment of an additional $10 billion from 2010 to 2015.